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Terry Crawford-Browne

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Carte Blanche Appearance; and Denel’s Ties with Nedbank

I’ll be appearing on Carte Blanche this coming Sunday: tune intos M-Net at the usual time, 7pm.

Meanwhile, my latest letter to Business Day has been published this morning BUT the references to Nedbank have been edited out! Here’s the original letter in full:


Great news that Denel’s Shaun Liebenberg finally admits that Denel’s munitions business is insolvent (Denel CEO warns of munitions blowout, October 30). Denel should be closed forthwith instead of still more public money being poured down a drain.

I was asked by Amnesty International in 2002 to investigate whether Denel’s Swartklip plant was producing components for landmines in contravention of the Ottawa Convention. Shop stewards were adamant that these components were being produced under licence from PW Defence in England, and exported to Italy and Malaysia.

The shop stewards also told me: “the workers at Swartklip don’t live very long. Many have lost their hands and legs, their eyesight, their hearing, their mental faculties, and others develop heart disease, arthritis and cancers. They are discharged with compensation of R1 000 and told to take responsibility for their own medical expenses. There are 900 members of the ex Swartklip Workers Committee, and there are more people at Somchem (outside Somerset West) where the situation is even worse.”

In October 2002 I brought 16 former employees and/or their spouses to Parliament where they told their stories to appalled parliamentarians. The department of public enterprises responded: “It is unsatisfactory and unacceptable that Terry Crawford-Browne’s manipulation of information be permitted to stand as formal evidence before the portfolio committee on defence without either government or Denel being afforded the courtesy or opportunity to respond publicly to these slanders.”

Parliamentary resolve to investigate Swartklip wilted under executive pressure. Three weeks later there was an explosion in the ammo plant. Fortunately, there was only one person in the building at the time but, typically, Denel blamed the victim and his negligence. The City of Cape Town was similarly disinterested in investigating violations of health and labour regulations. Eight months later in August 2003 there was a teargas leak at Swartklip.

After first rigorously denying any problem, Denel officials dismissed teargas and the vomitting and trauma of students at nearby schools a simply a 10 minute discomfort. Months later local residents were still receiving medical treatment. Teachers at schools in Mitchells Plain believe their learners are mentally “slow” because all their lives they have been ingesting chemical emissions from Swartklip.

The former CEO of Denel, Victor Moche and the former DG of Public Enterprises, Eugene Mokeyane told parliamentarians in November 2004 that it was untenable to have Swartklip in the middle of a residential area (between Michells Plain and Khayelitsha). Both men were dismissed by Minister Alec Erwin within three months.

It is a national disgrace that Denel continues to export its munitions to kill foreigners. It makes a mockery of South Africa’s purported commitments to human rights. Yet even more despicable is Denel’s attitude towards its South African workers and nearby residents. Workers who complain about safety infractions are told: “there is the gate: there are thousands out there waiting for your job.”

Similarly disgraceful is that Denel is financed by Nedbank against government guarantees. Nedbank’s executives should ponder their complicity in a business that compares with the manufacture by IG Farben of Zyklon B for use in Nazi gas chambers. Nedbank’s pretensions of social responsibility would be more credible were it immediately to withdraw its loan and other facilities to this repugnant hangover from the apartheid era.

Yours faithfully

Terry Crawford-Browne